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Copenhagen: World Capital of Architecture 2023

Laura Puttkamer

In 2023, Copenhagen will be the World Capital of Architecture. The General Assembly of the International Union of Architects has recommended the Danish Capital to the Director-General of UNESCO. Read more about the decision and about Copenhagen here.




Role of architecture, city planning and culture

Copenhagen will be the World Capital of Architecture (WCA) for 2023. Audrey Azoulay, the Director-General of UNESCO, has designated the Danish capital accordingly. Together with the International Union of Architects (UIA), UNESCO designates the host cities of the annual UIA World Congress. In 2021, Rio de Janeiro held the first WCA title.

According to Ms Azouly, “the inaugural World Capital of Architecture in Rio was a real success, underlining the important role of urban planning, notably in the pandemic context. (…) Copenhagen will build upon Rio’s achievements by continuing to show the way in which architecture as well as culture can respond to the challenges of our time.”

UNESCO and UIA launched the World Capital of Architecture initiative. It highlights the important role of architecture, city planning, and culture in shaping sustainable urban development and urban identity. Every three years, the designated city becomes a global forum at the forefront of discussions on contemporary urban and architectural challenges.

Copenhagen's Islands Brygge is an iconic spot for bathing and enjoying the sun. Photo: Astrid Maria Rasmussen

Leave No One Behind

As the World Capital of Architecture, Copenhagen will host a series of events and programmes with the theme “Sustainable Futures – Leave No One Behind”. Together with the Danish Association of Architects and various Nordic professional bodies, the Danish city wants to examine how architecture and urban design contribute to meeting the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Read more about how to achieve the SDGs in cities here.

The overall focus on Copenhagen’s events throughout 2023 will be on developing urban solutions that benefit future generations. From 2-6 July 2023, the city hosts the UIA Congress. It will bring together up to 15,000 urban planners and architects.

According to UIA President Thomas Vonier, “This is a chance for ordinary people and world leaders to see the value of design in everyday lives. Our partnership with UNESCO reinforces the place of architecture and urban design in advancing cultural values and influences in society, so sorely needed in today’s world. Architects can see the world both as it is – and as it could be.”

The next possible contenders for the World Capital of Architecture title in 2026 are Barcelona as well as Beijing. In the coming months, UNESCO will announce an official decision.

Copenhagen's mission as World Capital of Architecture is to showcase ideas for urban inclusion. Copyright: Daniel Rasmussen

Copenhagen’s people-centric approach to urban design

Copenhagen is famous for its urban planning master mind, Jan Gehl. The architect and urban designer has successfully reclaimed the city’s central area from cars. It is now completely pedestrianised. Transport systems in Copenhagen often favour pedestrians and cyclists, thus making it a very liveable city with active modes of transport.

Apart from the countless sidewalks and bike paths, the city is also defined by a “green glove” around its outer edge. Again, Jan Gehl’s work on how to provide liveable cities has obviously influenced the design. Even during the pandemic, Copenhagen has managed to show how liveability can keep a city attractive and inhabitable. At the same time, residents call for more public spaces as well as more playgrounds for children.

In addition, Copenhagen is a pioneer in sustainable design. Bjarke Ingels and office BIG designed the world’s first waste burning facility with a green rooftop and a ski slope on top. This has earned him the “Building of the Year 2021” prize at the World Architecture Festival.

Other famous architectural practices based in Copenhagen are for example Henning Larsen Architects, COBE, Gehl Architects, 3XN, Lendager Group, Dorthe Mandrup, and many others.

CopenHill by BIG is one of Copenhagen's most sustainable buildings. Copyright: Astrid Maria Rasmussen

Sustainable buildings

Overall, Denmark is famous for its focus on the human scale in architecture, as well as a democratic approach. It has many unique modern buildings, floating harbour swimming pools, innovative residential buildings, and pleasant recreation areas.

In Copenhagen, visitors can see modern and sustainable architecture principles in practices. An example is the human-made wooden island CPH-Ø1 in the city’s South Harbour: It shows what an affordable, floating base for houses might look like in the future. More islands and 3D-printed buildings will follow.

Ørestad Streethal, an eco-friendly sports centre divided into adaptable spaces is another example for Copenhagen’s array of sustainable buildings. It was co-created with the local community, is open 24 hours a day and doesn’t have any supervisory staff. Its ecological footprint is minimal. Similarly, the UN City building at Nordhavn’s Marble Pier is LEED Platinum certified. It boasts a rainwater collection system, sea water cooling as well as an intelligent façade.

The city will officially launch the World Capital of Architecture activities on 17 January 2023 with an event at the City Hall Square. The programme called “Copenhagen in Common” will continue throughout the year with the Danish Architecture Centre as a key partner.

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